Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has defended his decision to field an under-strength side for tonight’s RaboDirect Pro12 clash with interprovincial rivals Munster at Thomond Park (5:30pm).
The runaway league leaders are unbeaten in the Rabo this season with 11 wins from 11 having equalled Leinster’s record-breaking start to a campaign with last weekend’s victory over Joe Schmidt’s team at Ravenhill.
With a nine-point cushion over second-placed Scarlets, and standing 14 points ahead of third-placed Munster, Anscombe has pinpointed this evening’s game in Limerick as the perfect opportunity to rest his frontline players, making 11 changes from the starting XV that faced Leinster in Belfast last Saturday and won 27-19.
“We sat down with (Ireland head coach) Declan Kidney and discussed giving guys that have been on national camps this week some time off,” Anscombe told The Belfast Newsletter.
“It was either a case of resting a good few for the Leinster game or a good few this week. With Leinster being at home we wanted to get a monkey off our backs against them.
“We are resting a few this week, but we are still happy with what we have got.”
Underlining the importance of squad rotation, Anscombe added: “We have talked over the course of the year about the depth of the squad and being able to survive when you do not have certain players. When you play 30-plus games, player welfare is important if you are going to survive.”
Despite the numerous missing faces from the Ulster squad, home supporters will be able to witness the return to Thomond Park of another flying winger in Craig Gilroy, whose try on the same pitch last April helped seal his side’s famous Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Tony McGahan’s Munster.
Gilroy furthered his affinity for Thomond last month when he scored a hat-trick of tries in a man of the match performance for an Ireland XV against Fiji.
He made his full Test debut a week later, scoring a try against Argentina at the Aviva Stadium, and will be reunited with Ireland team-mates Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo, all of whom start for Munster tonight as Rob Penney’s side bid for an interprovincial double following last Saturday’s win at Connacht.
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